You will also love Joy’s advent podcast this week all about the history, purpose, and beauty of advent. You can find it here.
"And the people who were walking in darkness have seen a great light."
Candles flickered on the green wreath as one more friend piled through our creaky old door from the cold, snowy street. Sitting around our orphan table recently purchased at a second hand furniture store, I felt quite pleased with the ambiance and the company sharing our table in our small, chilly Austrian cottage.
An Iraqi refugee we met at church, asked us to pray he could get a passport so that he could go back to visit his mother who had cancer. Another Austrian friend teared up as he asked us to pray for the overwhelming pain he was feeling from having his wife leave him for another. My sweet Bible study partner mentioned the homesickness she felt working at the United Nations alone, thousands of miles from Taiwan. My own father had cancer and his illness prohibited us from going home for Christmas with our infant Joel and 2 1/2 year old Sarah.
All of us had a hole in our hearts, a longing for comfort, for hope of a comfort, or assurance that we would find light amidst the shadows of darkness swimming around inside.
Clay read from Isaiah 9:2,
"The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in the land of darkness, light will shine." We spent the evening eating hot buttered herb bread, savoring steaming bowls of potato cheese soup, munching nuts and cheese, but living in the comfort of each other's encouragement and love. This celebration of His coming heartened us all.
I love advent. It prepares me every year to remember that we are not alone, we have this treasure in earthen vessels, God with us. Just the picture of a tiny infant, being celebrated by angels, a young mother and father caught up in the miracle of a new birth warms my heart to the depths. So much to celebrate in this timeless story. But during the busy month ahead, to take time to prepare our hearts for His coming is a life long habit of worship that will strengthen us the whole year.
Advent mirrors the quiet but soulful longing that grows deep inside where no one sees. We cry for the touch of our creator amidst the whirlwind of trying to make it through one more busy day. Painting a smile on our face, we stuff down the cries that remain silent to those around us, where we want someone to notice, to care, to save us. My dear friend, Holly Pakiam, shared some of there thoughts about advent, mingled with my own.
Christmas has become a secularized time in which many do not know that our Jesus came because he saw a world that was helpless to save themselves, that they are filled with the disbarring, soul-killing sin that darkens their hearts.
The trouble with the generalized ‘holiday season’ isn’t that it is a part of some calculated ‘war on Christmas’; it’s that it leaves us with no lexicon for longing. It gives us snow and songs, elves and sales, cookies and cards…but no vocabulary for grief, for sorrow, for the deep ache in our hearts.
This is why we have come to appreciate Advent. Advent isn’t a spiritual, alternative name for ‘Christmas’; it is its own season, a season of preparation for Christmas. Advent is when the anticipated joy of Christ’s first arrival puts us touch with our anticipated joy at His return.
Advent is a joy that helps us hope.
Advent is when we give voice to the ache and pain and longing in our hearts. Advent is also when we confess our own participation in the brokenness of the world. Advent, then, is not only about longing for Christ to come again and put everything back together; it’s about repenting and receiving grace so that we get to be put back together now.
But there’s one more piece. Advent is not only about longing for Christ to put the world back together, not only about repenting and letting Christ put us back together; it is also a chance to participate in bringing wholeness to others.
As we enter the Advent season, could we as the people of God, be a part of the answer to the longing in people’s hearts?
Making time to invite your neighbors into your home for a warm drink or serving in the local Rescue Mission. Or maybe its through taking a moment to ‘see’ a colleague who’s going through a difficult time. It may seem difficult to carve out time to give to the things you desire in this season. We’ve had to cut out some of our regularly scheduled things to carve out space to focus on this season.
All around the world, we light the first purple candle in the Advent wreath as a symbol of Hope. Whether we sense God or feel a great void or doubt about his presence, we believe He is the hope of the world. The longing we have in our hearts for this world to be set right will come to pass. There are brief glimpses of Joy that remind us of this hope. Until then…we wait.
Our family participated in many activities through the years that helped the coming of Christ come alive in daily practices in our home.
• Advent Wreath: Every Sunday of Advent, light a candle in the Advent wreath along with reading a devotion to your family as you prepare to celebrate hope, peace, joy, and love.
• The first two weeks focus on the second coming of Christ. The prayers, Scripture readings, and hymns are more solemn, drawing us to repentance as we look toward the last days.
• In the second two weeks, the mood lightens. We turn our focus to Christ’s birth and begin our joyful preparations for Christmas.
• In a devotion, you could pray, “Tonight, all around the world, we light the purple candle in the Advent wreath as a symbol of Hope. Whether we sense God or feel a great void or doubt about his presence, we believe He is the hope of the world. The longing we have in our hearts for this world to be set right will come to pass. Until then…we wait.
Even though we participated in this celebration in our church, we always had a shared meal on Sunday evenings with readings, poetry and personal engagement with this hope we engaged in as a family.
• Midwinter Carols Vol. 2 by Joel Clarkson
We have received so many letters about Joel’s first Christmas album over the past several years. This year, Joel has composed a new one that delights me to the toes., It is truly so beautiful.
You can find Malcolm’s book which is wonderful to ponder.
Favorite Advent and Christmas Picture Books for Children
• The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
This book is one of the Clarkson kids favorite stories!
I, Sally, also love this classic story and read it and was touched when in high school
• Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien
• The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Wahlberg
• The Legend of St Nicholas Dandi McCall
• Christmas with Anne by L.M. Montgomery
• The Miracle of Saint Nicholas by Gloria Whelan
• The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman, Illustrated by Maurice Sendak
We have seen this ballet many times and the highlight was when we lived in Vienna. Sarah was 3 years old, but squealed at the lovely swaying across the stage of the elaborate Opera House.
Another favorite collection of advent stories to use with children begins with Jotham's Journey. Many consider this a favorite and a heart-warming story.
Can't leave out one of my favorite books--may be out of print. It will bring sweet tears and is a great story for your children to think about what giving sometimes costs.
Thank you, Malcolm and Holly for sharing your thoughts and resources. You are a gift to us.
There are lots more books in my home, but you will just have to come visit me and see my library and have a cup of cheer.
I hope you will enjoy the podcast I did with Malcolm to encourage you in your own advent journ